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A Bogus Appeal to ‘the People’

by Arthur Goldwag

Sep 27, 2013 | Politics


(Source: CSPAN)

Right wingers are very big on the fact that the United States is a Republic, not a Democracy.

“This is a Republic, not a Democracy. Let’s keep it that way!” the John Birch Society’s Robert Welch famously declared.

Of course, they are correct. Constitutionally, only half of the legislative branch of the government was directly elected (thanks to the 17th Amendment, now both the House and the Senate are).

Collectively, the rural, low-population, net-takers states have as much or more say over the direction of the federal government than backwaters like New York City, even if their influence derives mostly from a willingness to blow us all up with government shutdowns and debt-limit brinksmanship.

But what kills me is how these gerrymandered representatives of a privileged few address their appeals to the “people.” Here’s Texas Senator Ted Cruz, during his faux filibuster the other night:

“All across this country Americans are suffering because of Obamacare. Obamacare isn’t working. Yet fundamentally there are politicians in this body who are not listening to the people. They are not listening to the concerns of their constituents, they are not listening to the jobs lost or the people forced into part-time work, to the people losing their health insurance, to the people who are struggling.

Never mind that the Affordable Care Act hasn’t been completely rolled out yet or that it’s a subsidy to private insurance companies that was conceived by the conservative Heritage Foundation and carried to term by then-Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Despite dozens and dozens of efforts, the people’s House has failed to marshal enough votes to abolish it and Mitt Romney, who’d promised to smother his spawn in the cradle, was defeated by the popular vote and the electoral college.

If Obamacare stands, Cruz says, then ipso facto “the people” have no voice—”the people” being the people whose opinions really matter, whose votes really count. That is, people like Cruz. Cruz refers over and over to the groundswell of 1.6 million who signed a petition deploring Obamacare. It sort of begs the question about the 61 million who voted for Obama in 2012, doesn’t it?

Not really.

The National Review’s David French applauds Cruz’s efforts, precisely because he represents a minority position:

How many of our key institutions have been transformed through the sheer force of will expressed by a passionate minority? People with conviction dictate the terms of debate, transform the decision-making paradigm of even the largest entities, and lay the groundwork for larger cultural transformation. This work is rarely, if ever, done with majority support but instead at the urging of the most committed, most dedicated, and most vocal.

“This is a Republic, not a Democracy. Let’s keep it that way!” the John Birch Society’s Robert Welch famously declared. But if real patriotic Americans are so unalterably opposed to Democracy, then why all these appeals to the people?

To fool the people, of course.


Arthur Goldwag is the author of Isms & Ologies; Cults, Conspiracies, and Secret Societies, and most recently The New Hate: A History of Fear and Loathing on the Populist Right. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two children. Follow him at @ArthurGoldwag.


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